To start with, we did not make it to the peak. (fail? you tell me)
When I was booking my flight to Japan, hiking in Tokyo did not cross my mind, not even a single thought of it. Although I was more of the adventure-y type, I initially planned to just cool down and enjoy the city. Surprisingly, the guy I was meeting up with asked me how I feel about hiking and, of course, the answer was straight yes.
Japan, being a progressive and a constantly running forward city, has impressively maintained a balance between the modern and its nature preservation. Mountains in an almost pristine form in just over an hour away from the famous Shibuya crossing? Are you kidding me? What even surprised me most was seeing senior citizens hiking up without trekking poles. (Real goals, man)
So, just outside of Tokyo’s district is Ōme where you can find the most popular peak at 929m, the Mt. Mitake. Surrounding this is Mt. Odake at 1267m, which lies between Oku-Tama and Hinohara, and of which trail features waterfalls and an incredible view of Mount Fuji. I guess we were lucky enough to have gotten there in late November as you can see the leaves explode in Autumn colors, with striking reds and yellows, giving a different kind of element throughout the trail.
I would suggest avoiding long weekends and making an early start to catch the last cable car. So how did we actually end up getting lost?
From Central Tokyo, we took the train bound to Mitake Station. There is a bus just outside the station that goes to Ke-buru Shita (cable car station) in 10 minutes for 270 yen (one-way).
The hiking course starts from the cable car which provides access to the mitake village and runs approx. every 15 minutes, costing 570 yen (two-way ticket for 1090 yen). If you prefer not to ride the cable car, you then walk the 420-metre in elevation gain to the upper cable car station which takes around an hour.
Once you reach Mitake village, you will see yourself around traditional inns, wooden houses, souvenir shops, a few stores and ramen restaurants. Follow signs towards the shrine, which is worth an exploration. The paths are mostly paved and well-marked in English, so you shouldn’t have much trouble.
Walking further, you’ll reach Nagao Taira – a perfect little spot for a rest and picnic. There weren’t many people at the time we got there, probably because we started hiking up late so everyone else was already on their way back (haha). The area has wooden chairs and tables, even a WI-FI!
Along the trail, you will pass by an area that requires holding on to a chain and tree roots, which you will then be rewarded with the only sight of a Tengu statue.
As everyone else is saying, this is the most popular area of the mountain. It literally felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, giving me chills while having a good sight of trees towering over us. I swear to the old gods and the new, this is definitely a perfect place to read a book and meditate for as long as you want. This is where the real trek begins. Here, you now have two options: a. get down to the garden which path snakes its way to a river, crossing back and forth to a waterfall, orb. continue up to the peak of Mt. Odake.
Now you have to climb back up to the ridge. The passage is steep but manageable. What I realized and loved about choosing the latter was this – once you actually hit the trail out of town, crowds disappear and you find yourself in nothing but relative peace.
The going was pretty steady, although you will need a breather at some point. Then guess what? We started losing it. From here, the trail led us nowhere. It seemed as though we were hiking for a long time but no sign of Odake’s peak. We had been on our feet for hours before passing by a signage and realizing we were already headed in the wrong direction. Great. Having lost faith in our instincts and with the sky getting dark, we made our descent. The trail continuing up the ridge is the highlight of the hike, with a killer view of Mt. Fuji and some Jeepers-Creepers-with-Cabin-in-the-Woods feels — hey, still nothing short of perfect! It was off-limits but we guessed that will make up for the failed attempt. The test of patience was real but how can you not still stay in awe of this kind of view?
I must say I might have underestimated the hike – it wasn’t really a difficult hike but the ridge is narrow at points, has several peaks that require a sure footing, and the trail gets a little tougher and progressively more rugged. Note that you still need some care so you don’t slip and put yourself in a danger of a long fall.
The descent was a bit more challenging, I suppose. Running down in pitch dark to catch the last cable car at 1830 was thrilling yet fun. Sure getting down was much faster than hiking up but not with the time pressure behind us. We took the path along the western ridge rather than the path back down to the rock garden. Luckily, we made it back to Mitake Station and even managed to dinner out in Shinjuku.
All in all, it turned out to be a great day hike. This was definitely a highlight of the JP trip! While everyone’s going gaga over Disneyland and Universal, there we were in the middle of a quiet misty mountain, no notifications to check, no iPod to keep me company – just the sound of wind blowing through autumn trees, some funny pickup line stories, and sky alight. The whole place is very peaceful and truly worth for a day trip, especially for those wanting to get out of the crowds and city life. Guess I still have to come back and finally reach the top this time.